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Yes, “they booed Santa Claus.” Here’s why.

Oct 21, 2010, 3:30 PM EDT


There’s been so much lately on the nature of Philly fandom — hey look! It’s another “they booed Santa” screed! — but I feel at least one more thing needs to be said.  Not by me, though. By reader and Philadelphian TC Shillingford, who sent me a note yesterday explaining the Santa incident and so much more about Philly fans than most people usually consider.  And yes, fans of every city have their own creation story and their own quirks that arise from it.  Philly’s just seems more in need of telling at the moment, so I yield the floor to TC.

Philadelphia used to be the capital of the US, of course, the hub of government and business, and one of the city’s earliest and wealthiest fellows was Stephen Girard (he owned the First Bank of the US). Yellow fever broke out in the 1790s in Philly, and the upper class largely moved away from the city. Girard moved the financial institutions that eventually became Wall St to New York, and a number of government agencies to DC. When the outbreak ended, he prevented them from returning to Philly, saying that New York would be the financial city, DC the government city, and Philly would be the village in between. Of course, the way it worked out, people wanted to live a little closer to where they worked, and despite Girard giving most of his fortune to the considerable poor in the city, since the 1830s (when Girard died), Philadelphia has been a low-income city with ongoing identity issues, living in the twin shadows of NYC and DC. It’s a great city, and I love it here, but one of the most troubling things about Philly is how deeply self-loathing it can be. Philly is a pretty girl with low self-esteem who keeps going out with some lousy guy because every once in a while he says she’s pretty.

Anyway, Santa Claus. In 1968, the Phillies finished 7th in the NL that year. The 76ers had just traded Wilt Chamberlain to the Lakers. And worse than any of them, were the Eagles. (My father used to have the ability to express the moment in which any Philadelphia sports year became a disappointment, and so I’m doing all this based off his recollections).

Going into the game, the Eagles were something like 2-10, and played so poorly the two wins seemed like miracles. The weather was awful–cold rain and wet, heavy snow. Fans showed up to protest the team with signs about firing the head coach, getting rid of the owner, everything. The original jolly St Nick hadn’t made it to Franklin Field due to the inclement weather, and so the Eagles found some kid off the street to fill in. He looked terrible, ramshackle. For the fans in the stands, blue collar, lower middle class people who were paying money to see one of the NFL’s worst teams, seeing that Santa was a slap in the face. They had no way of knowing that this Santa was not the intended Santa. From the stands, it looked like these incompetent owners were rubbing the fans noses in it. If they wanted to watch football, they were stuck with the Eagles, and lousy fans get a lousy team, and on Christmas, they get a lousy Santa. That’s what it felt like. Like a “fuck you”, from the team to the fans. And so they booed, they threw snowballs.

And somehow, that story has been repeated over and over again as the hallmark of Philadelphia FANS: that they’re so brutal they boo Santa Claus. In Philly, when we’re not tearing our hairs out after hearing it every time a team does something stupid and worthy of national attention, it’s a story about how Philly fans have constantly had to take it up the ass from the teams they root for. The Eagles and Phillies, especially, but the Sixers, too (the Flyers play hockey, but they’ve had the decency to be competitive virtually every year they’ve been in the league).

So, I don’t know if Philly fans are really worse than other places. I’ve never personally seen anything so bad in Philly as the time I saw a man punch a pregnant lady in Shea Stadium. In Philly, famously, batteries were thrown at JD Drew, responding to another (perceived) slight. In San Diego, less famously, at least one fan threw a real syringe at Barry Bonds. Maybe it’s because almost every year someone in Philly has to get tased, has to vomit on a child, that only in Philly was there a court in the stadium. I don’t know.

I don’t personally feel this Philadelphia insecurity. New York can be amazing and so can Philadelphia, and just because someone thinks the Giants will win the NLCS doesn’t mean Philly is lame. But I think the insecurity, the subconscious belief that all of this is soon to fall apart (at least, with regards to the Phillies’ success) or that history will look upon it as a fluke, is common in the city, and, sadly, in so many ways, all too easy to explain. The Phillies went 100 years before they won their first World Series, and 28 more before they won their second. And each year we won’t win, all we seem to be left with is a reputation that this is not a safe place for children or for Santa.

  1. The Dangerous Mabry - Oct 21, 2010 at 3:35 PM

    I get on them more for booing Billy Wagner when he’d throw under 100 MPH. Ironic or not, that just ain’t right.

    • TC - Oct 21, 2010 at 4:47 PM

      That always seemed weird. Of course, I just hate on Billy Wagner for the times he opens his mouth, and for those two blown games against Houston in Sept 2005.

    • schmedley69 - Oct 21, 2010 at 8:01 PM

      They were booing the speed gun. They weren’t booing Wagner. It was done tongue-in-cheek.. Wagner was just too stupid to realize it. He thought they were booing him. Billy Wagner is not a very smart man and says a lot of stupid things.

  2. Matthew Flint - Oct 21, 2010 at 3:39 PM

    Good read. I’ve been told this, but don’t know the accuracy:
    The team, being so terrible, was almost certain to get the 1st pick in the following draft. A nice halfback out of USC by the name of OJ Simpson was winding down a Heisman season and was a virtual lock to go 1st. Then the team, being so terrible, decides to play well at the end of the season and blow their chances at that pick. I was told this was the game that this sad Santa came out at halftime and put the fans over the top.

    • psujay - Oct 22, 2010 at 9:01 AM

      The fans were booing and throwing snowballs before, during, and after Santa’s appearance. It had nothing to do with Santa really, it just happened to be that day. If there was no Santa there still would have been snowballs.

  3. Chris Fiorentino - Oct 21, 2010 at 3:42 PM

    Nice story…hopefully some of the nitwits nationally will read it, but I doubt it. They are way too lazy. One thing I would add would be that this generation of fans, 35-42 years old, didn’t have a championship for 100 seasons of sports teams…1983 Sixers to the 2008 Phillies. Yeah, that around 100 straight seasons without a title. It grates on you after a while. Philly is a great sports town, especially when the team(s) are winning. If they are losing, then like every other city, attendance goes down. But unlike other towns, when the team is winning, tickets are very hard to come by. When Iverson was playing and the Sixers were winning, Sixers routinely sold out. Say what you want about McNabb, but the Beagles have sold out every game for a long time. Flyers fans are Stepford fans and are the only ones who don’t complain about no championships, even though it has been 35 years.

    So when somebody says anything about us now, we shrug it off because we are winners. “The Phillies are the 2008 World Champions of Baseball” And no matter what the national journalists say, nobody can take that from us.

    • Utley's Hair - Oct 21, 2010 at 4:00 PM

      I wonder how many of HBT posters will read this, let alone the national media.

      • Gobias Industries - Oct 21, 2010 at 4:51 PM

        I didn’t read this post nor did I read the comment by Chris. Too long. That’s how lazy I am. I barely made it through your comment before turning my attention back to licking off the Cheetos dust that’s caked on my fingers. So, what are we all talking about?

      • Utley's Hair - Oct 21, 2010 at 5:01 PM

        LOOK OVER THERE!!!!! Shiny objects!!!!!!

      • Gobias Industries - Oct 21, 2010 at 5:05 PM

        Ooh! Ooh! Tin foil!!!

  4. Utley's Hair - Oct 21, 2010 at 4:04 PM

    Way to go, Mr. Shillingford. Though the fact that media types seem to be lazy enough to just lug out the whole incident to begin with, tells me that they won’t read it. Sigh.

    • nps6724 - Oct 22, 2010 at 9:30 AM

      You must turn the TV off when anything about NY comes on then. Wasn’t it just 2 years ago Jets fans got in trouble due to their treatment of opposing fans in a certain section? Or when Mets fans threw batteries at John Rocker (which was admittedly pretty funny since he was a royal douchebag)? But as usual, Philly fans are playing the “woe is me” card. You want all the glory that comes with having a winning team in a large city but none of the downside. Just accept people are going to think poorly of your fanbase when stupid crap happens. Until that minority of fans stop doing these things, the opinion of Philly fans won’t improve.

      • Utley's Hair - Oct 22, 2010 at 11:30 AM

        Here you are harping on this a day later, still trying to bait me into an argument. I have no time for fool’s errands like trying to sway the opinions of morons who don’t even pay attention to what they said or wrote. Get a life.

      • nps6724 - Oct 22, 2010 at 11:34 AM

        It wasn’t supposed to be a response to you, it was to someone else. Just clicked the wrong reply button.

  5. nps6724 - Oct 21, 2010 at 4:04 PM

    Even if you excuse the Santa incident, there’s still several others to point to that deserve ire.

    • Matthew Flint - Oct 21, 2010 at 4:12 PM

      Having four professional sports teams allows for way more instances to happen then a city with one or two teams. Statistically I bet that if you broke down how many instances have happened here per sporting event, the percentage would be right there with any other city. You just don’t here about most other cities disgressions.

      • nps6724 - Oct 21, 2010 at 4:19 PM

        Maybe, maybe not. But New York has, what, 7 teams and yet you hear less about their boorish behavior than Philly. Some of it is perception, but throwing up on a kid, getting tazed on the field, and throwing batteries at a player all within the last 15 years is pretty bad.

        Let’s put it this way: Philly fans have done NOTHING to rid themselves of their label.

      • Matthew Flint - Oct 21, 2010 at 4:28 PM

        Yeah, but the problem is that “fans” is often used when “kids” should be. The kid that got tazed was only around 15, the fat ass vomitter was 21 I think. Not that it’s better, but they aren’t really fans, they are kids looking to get drunk and cause trouble. Have the problem is that these kids think the national perception is funny and try to uphold it as best they can. Glorifying it on ESPN and making national news about only encourages these idiots to be more outrageous than the last clown. I don’t condone anything other than cheering for your team, and booing whoever the hell you want. If booing someone or something is really going to weigh on people than they are weak minded. I sit in my seats and I watch the game. I cheer, and I boo. Sorry if that’s too much but that’s what I see most REAL fans doing.

      • nps6724 - Oct 21, 2010 at 4:31 PM

        I don’t disagree with your sentiment one bit. But the problem is, plenty do. And they’re usually loud and obnoxious. But like you said, a lot of Philly fans are okay with their reputation and attempt to own it, almost like it’s a badge of honor.

      • psujay - Oct 22, 2010 at 9:08 AM


        Are you so ignorant that you don’t realize that the media is based out of NY and would never actually report poorly on NY? NY, LA, Boston, and Chicago are never going to get a bad rap from ESPN or other national news media because they are their headquarters. I’ve gone to NY games and seen some horrible things, 250 people were arrested on opening day in LA…these things aren’t going to be reported though. It’s chic to report about anything that happens in Philly. I still don’t understand why the kid getting tazed for running on the field is such big news considering fans run on the field everywhere in the country. He didn’t do anything hundreds of other fans haven’t done, but because a cop tazed him it’s a bad show on our fans? If he hadn’t been tazed it’s not even news. But it’s Philly so ESPN blew it up.

        Should we bring up the Pittsburgh fan who killed his gf’s puppy for barking during a Steelers’ game? ESPN wouldn’t even report on Roethlisberger because of their relationship with the Steelers until national pressure from other media sites forced them to do so, so there’s no way they’ll report on the fanbase.

        In Philly we get demonized for giving our teams a hard time, in NY it’s galvanized as a “Bronx Cheer.”

      • nps6724 - Oct 22, 2010 at 11:35 AM

        You must turn the TV off when anything about NY comes on then. Wasn’t it just 2 years ago Jets fans got in trouble due to their treatment of opposing fans in a certain section? Or when Mets fans threw batteries at John Rocker (which was admittedly pretty funny since he was a royal douchebag)? But as usual, Philly fans are playing the “woe is me” card. You want all the glory that comes with having a winning team in a large city but none of the downside. Just accept people are going to think poorly of your fanbase when stupid crap happens. Until that minority of fans stop doing these things, the opinion of Philly fans won’t improve.

    • Utley's Hair - Oct 21, 2010 at 5:28 PM

      I am a Philadelphia fan. I root for the Phightins, the Eagles and the Flyers (though I will admit that I’m a bandwagoner for the Sixers, since basketball is not my favorite sport and I don’t like a lot of the players and their attitudes). I know that Philly fans have an illegitimate bad reputation due to a few idiotic incidents over the course of Philly sports history. I acknowledge it. I do NOT embrace it. It’s just that I don’t have the energy or the time to fight back every time these lame ass incidents are dragged out every 15 minutes or so. And it’s idiots like you who make it not worth my time. You’re a moron who is just lashing out after your team folded like a house of cards after you said that the Braves would take the division, since there was no way the Phils would be able to sustain a .750 pace. Guess what? They did–AND they were aided by your Braves, who utterly collapsed and barely held on to a wildcard spot. And then you disappeared. Now, you opportunistically re-appear to lash out and rip the Phillies again. Crawl back into your spider hole.

      Yes, the Philadelphia fans have a bad reputation which is constantly dragged out when there is some lazy reporter/columnist/blogger who needs to meet a deadline and doesn’t have time or the ability to actually think of something interesting, relevant or even true. I know this fanbase has a bad reputation–whether deserved or not. I don’t embrace it, but I also hate it. Do I want my kid to grow up thinking that he will draw scorn from scumbags like nps just for the simple reason that he’s from here and roots for his teams? Hell no. But there are more important things in life and it isn’t worth my time, energy or effort to refute and try to change the minds of idiots like this one, who wouldn’t be able to figure out that not every fan in a fanbase is like the jagoff who puked on a kid, or ran onto the field, or threw snowballs at some drunk schmuck impersonating a children’s icon while drunk. nps6724, you’re an ignorant, idiotic jackass.

      • nps6724 - Oct 21, 2010 at 6:18 PM

        And you wonder why Philly fans have such bad reps. I didn’t even say anything BAD about them. You can definitely see the insecurities shining through.

      • Utley's Hair - Oct 21, 2010 at 6:24 PM

        So you obviously don’t read what you write–or even think about it.

      • nps6724 - Oct 21, 2010 at 6:33 PM

        What did I say bad about them? I mentioned actual incidents that occurred in Philly with their fans, I acknowledged not all Philly fans act this way but that many do (to deny it is ludicrous), and I said their fans haven’t done anything to rid themselves of the label.

        And the worst thing I said about the team is they’re choking. OH NO, HOW DARE I??

  6. Jonny 5 - Oct 21, 2010 at 4:39 PM

    I love the city, and some of the people who live there. As I’m no native to the city, but one of a Jersey suburb 15 minutes from the city, it’s a part of my home in a way. I have always been able to just drive on over to south street for some fun, penn’s landing, or go to some very good concerts. The history of the city is very rich. It’s a shame that it’s soiled by stupid stories that are more folk lore than anything. I’ve heard the version above, along with about 3 others resembling that one, just tweaked. One thing that is definately true, Philly fans are soo used to rooting for losing teams I don’t think they know how to act when they have winners. If I had a dollar for everytime I heard “phillies suck” or “Eagles suck” or “Sixers suck” I’d be rich. the worst part of it all is You have to agree with the insult hurlers 90% of the time. Sure they suck, it’s Philly. That’s how it’s been for a looonggg time, until the Eagles started shaping up, and the Phillies started playing so well. I think sports fans that follow Philly are mostly mentally disturbed by all the abuse they’ve taken over the years, and i’m one of them. So now we have winners, that’s awesome, and we can’t handle it properly. Some of us might want some payback for years of abuse. Some of us will rock back and forth drooling because it does not compute. Some of us will just act plain stupid. Actually the bandwagoners in Philly are the most normal fans because half of them were screaming about how bad our team sucks “that’s why i don’t watch them” as us die hards had to have locals tell us how bad the team sucks, these people raised in Philly cheering for the Dallas cowboys and Yankees!! Jonny want to punch!!! Sorry I drifted off there.. Anyway, we are broken fans here so don’t be too tough on us, ok. It really isn’t our fault.

    • Utley's Hair - Oct 21, 2010 at 4:59 PM

      What?!? You’re from Jersey?!? Carpetbagger!!!!

  7. TC - Oct 21, 2010 at 4:42 PM

    I agree with you guys. Philly fans, frequently, embrace their reputation. They don’t believe they’re “bad” fans. They believe they are “fierce” fans. Tough fans. Personally, I’m ill-prepared to work the Philly incidents vs (say) NYC incidents conversation. I live in Philly, not NYC, and when something happens here, I hear about it and read about it and it registers with me. When something happens at Yankee Stadium, unless it’s extraordinary (like the kid who jumped from the upper deck onto the netting behind home plate a couple of years ago, after the section chanted for him to do so), I forget about it entirely.

    It’s absolutely true that there is some really abhorrent behavior at Phillies games. Dollar Dog Night, for whatever reason, is especially so. You could rename it “Fight Night in the Right Field Upper Deck”. I would say, though, that generally, the fans have gotten better over the past 15 years or so. There’s been more of a crackdown on unruly fans, and the ticket prices have become prohibitive for people looking to just come to a midsummer came to fuck around .

  8. tpdownes - Oct 21, 2010 at 5:19 PM

    I remember when I got HD and 5.1 surround sound feed for the first time. It was the Sunday morning just after TO nearly overdosed and the Cowboys were in Philly.

    The stadium was chanting “OD, OD, OD” to the tune of “Ole, ole, ole” the entire game.

    I consider this part of the charm of Philadelphia fandom, though I could see why reasonable people would disagree. There is also a larger issue of “East Coast” (really the Northeast) fans versus other parts of the country. Generally speaking, The Situation style behavior would get you laughed at too much in other parts of the country for anyone to consider doing it. Not that it isn’t laughed at in the Northeast, too, but there are more people who would consider it acceptable. I think a lot of the hate on Phillies fans is really about this kind of behavior. When people get drunk and do stupid things elsewhere, they do so in a little less showboat style.

  9. Old Gator - Oct 21, 2010 at 5:47 PM

    I wish I could participate more substantively in this discussion but as a Feesh fan, I’ve got a big problem. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that it’s only a small percentage of the 40 or 50 thousand fans at a Feelies or Borg game who give the rest of them a bad name. Well, since the Feesh never attract more than five or six thousand fans to a normal home game, that percentage yields a fractionated fan, maybe 15-20% of a fan, not even enough cellular mass to sustain organic life. Ergo, potential asshole Feesh fans rarely survive gestation, much less adolescence, and never make it as far as Joep[rodolsharklife Stadium to be schmucky enough to attract national media attention in the first place.

    Now, when the Feelies, Mutts or the Borg are in town, the attendance at Joeprodolsharklife Stadium swells into the mid to high 20 thousands with fans of the visiting team. Then, when someone in the stands behaves like an asshole, the probability that he’s a Mutts, Borg or Feelies fan is exponentially greater than that he might be a loosely amalgamated smear of Feesh Fan protoplasm. Any way you slice it, Feesh fans just don’t make the cut. Frustrating.

    • Utley's Hair - Oct 21, 2010 at 6:06 PM

      So their gestational existence is aborted for numerical reasons? I thought it was just apathy. Hmmm…

      • Old Gator - Oct 21, 2010 at 9:12 PM

        In order to be apathetic, you need to have an interest upon which you fail to act. I don’t think that applies here. Anyhow, mathematics explains everything. Just ask any Kabbalist. Madonna, for example.

  10. apbaguy - Oct 21, 2010 at 7:15 PM

    Well, there’s fierce and then there’s insane. And Oakland fans are both, and neither. The A’s fans, those of us that are left, are really more like a sect, or cult: knowledgable in our little area of expertise, but also sun worshippers. Often you’ll see A’s fans in a coma at the games, lounging, spread over 6 or so seats, having had 2 beers and just absorbing the sun. The stadium can be eerily quiet. And that’s when the A’s are winning. When we’re losing the stadium is eerily empty.

    But Raiders fans are the exact opposite. Hostile, vicious, painted, angry, loud and rabid. Go to a Raiders game and you’ll never complain about Phillies or Borg fans again. Never. Mark my words: one day you’ll read about a chain saw fight in the stands at a Raiders game. Question: how did chain saws get into the stadium? Answer: they’re on sale at the concession stands. As long as Al Davis is the owner, it could happen.

  11. The Rabbit - Oct 21, 2010 at 7:22 PM

    As a native Philadelphian/former South Jersey-ite (Johnny5, my sis, a season Phillies ticketholder lives on the edge of Red Lion) who has attended MLB games all over the country, I agree that Philly fans get a bad rap and that the worst behavior comes from a very small minority while under the influence of large quantities of alcohol.

    However while attending games, I’ve noticed one major difference between fans of other teams and a lot of Phillies fans. John Smoltz summed it up the other night during the Rangers/Yankees broadcast and it wasn’t about the Phillies. He recounted his time warming up in Yankee Stadium and being heckled by Yankees fans. He referred to it as “the best professional heckling” he’d ever encountered. They had even known about and commented on his accordian playing. He said he found a lot of it pretty funny.

    It may be part of the defensive nature of Philadelphians as retold in this post, but many Phillies fans just lack the humor and creativity that other fan bases use to exhibit their “fandom”. As an example, the signs held during Lincecum’s start weren’t funny. They were juvenile and obnoxious reinforcing the stereotype. If Phillies fans give a cr*p about their reputations (which they may not), more humor and less hostility might serve them well.

    • Jonny 5 - Oct 21, 2010 at 7:37 PM

      Rabbit I grew up on Old Red Lion rd. I spent my entire young life there. Wow! Small world indeed. I live up the road in Marlton now. My dad still lives there. Beautiful farm land and state forrests. It’s sooo not “New Jersey” if you know what i mean. I’ll never leave this area.

      • The Rabbit - Oct 21, 2010 at 8:49 PM

        My sister moved from Marlton to Red Lion for the reasons you describe. We grew up in Camden County.
        I moved to the Ozark Mountains from the Tabernacle area.

      • Jonny 5 - Oct 21, 2010 at 9:16 PM

        Tabernacle too. I have some family out there off Caranza rd. The Ozark Mts.? Well I see you got yourself even more “into the woods”. It is the only way to live. Well all I have to say is. GO PHILLS! Effing Cody Ross just got an RBI!!

  12. xmatt0926x - Oct 21, 2010 at 7:37 PM

    Ohh my good god!!! what??? Forget everything else right now. If it hasn’t been done already please let me clear up the most rediculous claim of all time from Billy Wagner. when he was in philly he was touching 100 herer and there in games. It got to be a carnival like atmosphere when he would come in and fans would cheer and JOKINGLY give good natured boos when he’d only hit 99 or 98. IT WAS FOR FUN YOU IDIOTS!!!! when wagner first complained about that I laughed because I thought he was obviously being sarcastic by saying that he was beeing booed for not hitting 100. Then as the years went by he kept saying it!! are you kidding me??? And now other people are actually buying into that?? Unreal. Philly fans have done some bad things and deservedly get criticised for them but this is a prime example of why philly fans jump off the handle every time something like this comes up.

  13. BC - Oct 22, 2010 at 10:32 AM

    If I recall, they cheered when Michael Irvin suffered the neck injury that ended his career.

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